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WAITING FOR TOMMY - COMICS ACTIVISM
By Richard Johnston

KEANU: Hi. My name's Keanu Reeves. You might have seen me in films such as The Matrix or Johnny Mnemonic. But when I was a kid, I wanted to be Wolverine.
FX: STEAK KNIVES BEING DRAWN KEANU: You know, like in the comics you read when you were that age. FX: METAL ON METAL, QUICK BURSTS KEABU: All hairy, snikkety snikk, and the best he is at what he does. Well, I'm all grown up now. I just picked up a copy of the new Wolverine comic and you know what? I want to be Wolverine all over again. Claws, spikey hair, bad breath the works, better than ever. Guess I'm just too pretty. But what do I know? I read comics. FV: To find your favourites, or to make some new ones, call 1 800 COMIC for your nearest comic shop, or try your local bookstore. KEANU: Just leave a copy of Wolverine out for me, kay?

Follow this up by Marvel issuing a shelf place ad with

LEAVE A COPY FOR KEANU. Keanu Reeves Reads Wolverine

In the comic shops and bookshops themselves.

Now rinse and repeat for all manner of comics from all manner of publishers, for all manner of forms, all with a similar structure. And you've got a radio campaign. Radio is cheap, celebrities donate time for their favourite medium, and we all get to pall around with the luvvies.

Now, of course, I can blather on about pretend advertising for days. To which some of my peers can attest. Well, here's one case study of an actual campaign in action, from the small press. G T Taibai writes to say, plug and generally shill:

The character Captain 85 was created about twenty years ago by a DJ named Henderson Vaughan who later in his life would go on to own the most successful nightclub ever in Hampton Roads, Virginia. He built the character on the concept from the darkness there is light. Basically we use Captain 85's scary and mysterious exterior to capture the attention of our youthful audience to bombard them with completely positive messages.

Our marketing strategy is to brand the name captain 85...it's not just about the comic book it is about building a brand base culture around the name i.e. t-shirts, comic books, calendars, video games etc etc etc... as you would any other type of intellectual property. Since January 2000 we have ran about 5-10 radio commercials 7 days a week on 92.1 the Beat owned by clear channel communications, a station that fits our target demographic; hip-hopsters from the ages of 5-24. The commercials were basically short stories that had a positive message and catchy beat. The radio station reaches 7 major cities in the heart of Virginia and North Carolina. We tailored many commercials/short stories to current events like the attack on the twin towers and stuff like that.

The response was phenomenal. The people in Hampton Roads began to consciously and subconsciously identify with the character...people on the streets even used the captain 85 name in slang. I can recall right before the first black and white issue dropped people started saying "stop 85ing" meaning stop being a goody two shoes. In 2001 the first website was built and it basically took the radio stories and turned them into sequential art. The art was bland but it got the job done...there was no fanfare.

That's when in 2002 Stableboy productions held a talent search to find an artist who could capture the urban flavor of captain 85...The first artist to come through the door got the job...his name George Houston...He captured the essence of the character on his first rendition...Mr. Henderson called off the search and they began working on a black and white comic to take the WizardWorld East 2002 and to create even a bigger local buzz...it worked!! After selling a whopping 300 copies of a 3000 print run at a three day event we knew we had something great. Discovery channel even interviewed us.

When we returned from the con our focus was to move all 2700 books in our home town we attended several promotional events that were not related to comics and established a very loyal and supportive fanbase outside the world of comics. After moving all three thousand b/w comics in a localized area we knew it was time to move forward and go full color...Henderson felt that George was talented enough to handle every facet of comic book creation from the writing, drawing, coloring, even graphic design of the inside cover...

A task that monumental would require a big chunk of time...It took George 4 months to write draw and letter about 84 pages that would be broken down into 22 pages stories...while George was in the lab...Henderson was promoting...the radio campaign still going strong and now 4-6 30 second animated tv spots that were created using studio max were being ran per day...calls and letters flooded stableboy productions...The tv spots were placed on the cable affiliates of mtv, the cartoon network, bet, and usa...during trl and 106and park, dragon ball z...you get the point...the buzz had gotten so big and we hadn't even released a full color book yet...Virginia association of Black psychologist gave us a community crusader award, walmart invited us to do a book signing at there store for there literacy day program, schools were even writing us letters about how they use the books as class assignments...

Charlie Baltimore a rap artist on the Ja rule's Murda Inc records a label under Def Jam distribution did a commercial for us ...leading to def jam giving us the rights to use there artist as characters in the book as well as Nas of Columbia Records...To sum it all up it has been an amazing year for Stableboy Productions and we're continuing to grow like a small version of Harry Potter phenomenon...

 

Okay, it might look like Black Civilian Justice, but there's certainly energy, dedication and a level of success that is batting above its weight. It's unsophisticated, it's crude and it might not serve a nationwide campaign to sell the medium, but it seems to have worked on that level.

Manipulating media is fun. I placed a story in the British newspaper the Daily Mail last week about Princess Diana's appearance in an upcoming X-Statix, that got taken up by other newspapers and media around the world. I'm intending to do something similar when my new mystery comic book gets published. The trick to manipulating media is to find something they really, really want. And if you don't have it, make it up.

And if nothing else, people who work in comics are very good at doing just that.

More to come. P.S. Last night was at the Chris Ware talk at the brand new, soon-to-be-regular COMICA week, organised by Escape founder Paul Gravett. Paul, described by Eddie Campbell as The Man At The Crossroad, has la long history of being a cornerstone in British comics, organising groups of creators or indeed just introducing them to each other. Most major British comics works of art have passed through his door in one way or another. And this week, he persuaded the Institute Of Contemporary Art to put up an exhibition and a number of shows about comics. The exhibition features a wall full of one comic strip that splits off into different narratives, or has different narratives intersect with the central story, by different artists, including the likes of Chris Ware, Roger Langridge, Charles Burns and Mark Stafford - expect a web version soon. But here's the thing about numbers again. The ICA were bowled over by the numbers of people the events attracted, selling out in record speed large rooms that could sit 250 people!

Yeah, I know. But for contemporary art, this is an excellent thing. See what I meant about comparative numbers? Comics are a huge blockbuster industry for the arts world.

Anyway, one of the people coming along to the Chris Ware talk was UK TV comedian, football pundit, and No .1 songwriter Frank Skinner. Apparently, he's a bit of a fan of old Chris. No American will have heard of him, but I thought it would be a good place to start a UK HE READS COMICS spinoff.

THIS MAN TELLS GAGS ABOUT ANAL SEX. AND WOMEN LOVE HIM

HE READS COMICS

Frank Skinner reads Jimmy Corrigan. Available in your local bookshop.

BREAKING NEWS

Just before I go. Epic editor Stephanie Moore has been posting on X-Fan about the possibility of the withdrawal of creator-owned opportunities at Epic. She writes "This is actually a good place to mention a recent development for EPIC: the creator-owned option may no longer be available to EPIC creators. This question is being discussed at levels in the company much higher than myself and to the best of my knowledge, nothing concrete has been settled at this point. But what may happen is that creators may instead have the option to sign a New Character agreement, which gives the creator financial participation in the character while still giving ownership of the property to Marvel."

Oh boy...

Rich Johnston writes Lying In the Gutters .   

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The Waiting For Tommy Archive

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